Many separate accessibility standards development processes exist in Canada. Ontario, Manitoba, and Nova Scotia all have laws that mandate creation of provincial accessibility standards. In addition, the Accessible Canada Act mandates accessibility standards that apply to organizations under federal jurisdiction. However, the government of Canada intends to coordinate federal and provincial accessibility laws. Moreover, the third review of the AODA recommends that the Ontario government should support this aim by aligning its accessibility law, the AODA, with the laws of other provinces and the country. If the governments work together to make these laws more similar, the AODA standards development process may change to align with laws in other places across the country. In this article, we explore accessibility incentive agreements across Canada.
Accessibility Incentive Agreements Across Canada
Under the AODA, the minister in charge of the act can make incentive agreements with organizations. Incentive agreements provide support to businesses that choose to become more accessible than the law requires. For instance, customer service providers can offer more extensive AODA training for workers. Similarly, small businesses, not required to document their customer service policies, can do so. Furthermore, businesses can enhance their hiring practices and actively recruit qualified workers with disabilities. Likewise, small private businesses, not required to create processes for writing accommodation plans, can do so.
In addition, businesses can prepare accessible formats and communication supports in advance, instead of waiting until a customer makes a request. Similarly, businesses with older websites can make that web content accessible. Moreover, transportation providers can offer more in-depth AODA training for transportation workers. Likewise, providers with older vehicles can retrofit them for accessibility or buy new vehicles. Finally, businesses can retrofit their spaces to include accessible features, such as parking. Similarly, small businesses, not required to have accessible outdoor eating areas, can install them.
When businesses make agreements with the minister, the two parties decide which requirements the business will exceed. In addition, they will agree on a timeframe, so that the business has a deadline for its goal. Finally, the minister may exempt some businesses from filling in part of their accessibility reports. This exemption may help businesses focus on meeting their new requirements.
Businesses may begin making incentive agreements because they value the incentives they receive. However, they may come to value how their efforts allow new customers, clients, and workers to access their spaces and services.
Nova Scotia is the only other province where the accessibility law references incentive agreements. In contrast, all three provincial accessibility laws, as well as the Accessible Canada Act, mention exemptions. For instance, under the Accessible Canada Act, organizations can receive exemptions from:
These exemptions, like the exemption in the AODA, reduces the paperwork that organizations need to complete. As a result, exempted organizations have more time to focus on concrete accessibility. However, organizations may sometimes receive exemptions that do not require this level of increased accessibility. Instead, there is a chance that organizations could use exemptions to avoid improving their accessibility. On the other hand, under incentive agreements, organizations are required to improve their structures and services to meet the needs of customers and workers with disabilities.
As governments work together to align their accessibility laws, the AODA may change to correspond more closely to laws in other provinces, as well as the Accessible Canada Act. As a result, the AODA may one day no longer include the possibility of incentive agreements. On the other hand, other jurisdictions may decide that incentive agreements offer benefits to the organizations and governments that make them.